A Point of Convergence and New Departures
The 1759 Contest on Language and Opinions
The chapter is dedicated to the Berlin contest of 1759 on the reciprocal influence of language and opinions. While most contestants tried to answer the question by recasting it as a historical account of the evolution of language, Johann David Michaelis focused on the set topic while elaborating a panoramic view of language as an ongoing project of a living community. Michaelis's principled objection to invented scientific idioms and his espousal of the common use of the vernacular had strong political overtones. He repeatedly compared language to political democracy and discussed several Epicurean themes in a delicate manner. The combined effect of the 1759 prize contest and the local discussions of Rousseau's conundrums led to what was commonly perceived as an insurmountable stalemate. The chapter ends with an overview of the new challenges elaborated by Formey, Mendelssohn, and Hamann.
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